Saturday, 29 September 2018

Last Part : Never let go!(ss)


-Riddhima-

"Hey!" The moment I heard his deep voice, my heart started beating faster.

I don't understand how it happens, but it does. His mere voice sends a tinge down my spine. It makes me nervous and stammer. I feel as if my stomach is in innumerable knots. For this reason, I tend to be extremely conscious when I am talking to him, when I am around him. And for the same reason, he tries to create some room for me, tries to make me feel comfortable. And that is the very first reason, I fell for him.

But he doesn't understand my feelings, can he? The reason being simple and straight forward: I never told him. In fact, it took me almost six months to realize my feelings for him; and another six months to come to terms that I am in love with him. And another couple of months later, when I amassed all my courage to tell him what I feel for him, it came as an unbearable blow when he announced that he is in a relationship with one of my colleagues. Now, I can't tell him that I love him, can I? I will be risking two most important relationships of mine: one with him and the other with my friend who is his girlfriend.



However, whenever there is a party involving all of us, it breaks my heart to see him with her. It might be dramatic, but I feel suffocated. Neither could I breathe when I look at them, nor could I stop my eyes from searching for him. All the parties end in the same way for me. I end up alone in my bed, crying myself to sleep. I couldn't help the tears when I am alone.

I convinced myself that I could let go of him, that I could forget him and that I could move on. But whom was I kidding? If there was anything I learnt over the last couple of months it was to keep my emotions to myself and put on a mask of serene smile on my face. But it hurts. Every time I come across him, my cheeks hurt when I have to smile at him, my eyes sting when I have to look at him.

And so, after an year and half struggling with myself, hovering in self-pity, I decided to go for my masters. I cannot force my feelings on him, can I? Neither can I force him to love me back. But I can force myself to get away from him. For, I am scared that I would cry out my love for him if I have to endure the pain more.

And now I am sitting in my room, after the farewell party given by my colleagues and friends, trying to talk to him. As much as I wanted to stay away from him, I couldn't help but miss him when he couldn't make it to the party. It took all my control to not cry for his absence. It was the last day I could spend with him. But God had some other plans for me. He told me that he had to meet his girlfriend's parents. He didn't tell me the reason for it, but I could understand.

And just like that my heart was completely broken.

"Hie," I said softly, blinking back the tears in my eyes. "How did your meeting go?" I asked.

"Perfect. Her parents are impressed with me. I guess the line is clear." He said, his voice cheerful. "After all, I am a charmer." He chuckled.

I swallowed the sob that threatened to make its way out of my throat. A charmer he is. "No one can resist your charm." I whispered.

He laughed. "So done with your packing?" He asked. "When is your flight?"

"It's at 9.15pm tomorrow." I mumbled.

"Great. I am sure Texas will suit you. You won't forget me, will you?"

This time, I couldn't help the tears that ran down my cheeks. I wish I could forget him, but I know the truth. "I will miss you." I whispered, in a broken voice.

"Aww! I will miss you too. You have been a great friend." He said. I could feel that he said the truth.

But why did it hurt me? I know that I was his friend. Nothing more, nothing less. But somewhere, deep down in my heart, there had always been a hope that he would feel something for me. Something special!

"Thank you." I said, in short of words.

"Okay, see you next summer then. Good luck with your studies and new life." He said.

And I knew this was it. But I didn't want to let go. I want some more time. To do what? I don't know. May be a minute or two, with him. Maybe to imprint his face in my heart forever for the last time. May be to see his dimples when he smiles. May be to see the sparkle in his eyes when he teases me. May be to meet him for one last time. May be to say final good bye.

"Can you meet me tomorrow?" I asked, before I could stop myself.

"Tomorrow?" He sounded skeptical.

"One last time, please." I pleaded holding my breath. I knew I would die if he hesitated.

"Okay sure." He said and I breathed. "During lunch break?"

"Sure." I quickly tried to search for a place near my place. "Ohris?"

"See ya!" He said and cut the call.

I held the phone close to my heart and did what I always do. I cried.

-------------------------

As I waited for him at his favourtite cornet table on the terrace, I couldn't help but feel jittery. In a matter of ten minutes my entire time with him flashed before my eyes- our training together, our projects together, out trips together, our fights together and our parties together. He was everywhere. I swallowed another lump in my throat and pushed them aside.

"Hey! Sorry I am late." I saw him rushing to me and smiled at him. He seemed to be in a hurry.

While I ordered two coffees, he pulled out a small bag and gave it to me.

"I bought it for you. I thought to give it to you yesterday but I couldn't. I thought of sending it to you later but now that we planned to meet, I brought it with me." He said.

I unwrapped it slowly and my breath caught struck in my lungs when I looked at his gift. It was a beautiful diary I had seen in the mall last month. I wanted to buy it but couldn't as it was specially ordered by someone. I desperately wanted to buy it but there wasn't any other piece available. I forgot about it later.

He smiled at me when I looked at him with tears filling my eyes fast. He was the only person who knew about my habit of writing diary. But I didn't expect him to remember about that incident at the mall. He held my hand and squeezed it when tears rolled down. I quickly wiped them and smiled back at him.

"This will make sure that you will never forget me." He said and winked.

Little did he know that I would never be able to forget him even if I wanted to! Once more, I felt my chest tighten at the thought that he can never be mine. For the first time, I felt envious of my friend who had captured him. For the first time, I realized what I had lost. And for the very first time, I didn't want to lose him.

I sat silently sipping my coffee while he rambled about our last trekking trip together. He then talked about our time in the office, emphasizing on very minute details that even I didn't remember. Listening to his talk, for the every first time, I felt that may be he treats me little more than a friend. May be we could have a chance if I tell him that I love him. May be…

"Okay then, I have to leave." He said, breaking my thoughts. When I stood, he gave me tight hug and whispered, "Take care."

When he turned back to leave, I felt as if a part of mine is leaving me. As I watched him leave, I felt a desperation in me that told me not to let go of him.

"Armaan?" I shouted for him, running towards him.

He stopped and turned back to me surprised.

"I…" I gulped looking at him, trying to force the words out of my mouth. "I-I have something to say to you."

"Yeah?" He smiled and waited for me to speak.

I was tongue tied. I was nervous. I know I will be risking our friendship if I say those three words to him. At the same time, I didn't want to give up without trying. I wasn't even sure if he would believe me. But I wanted him to realize the depth of my feelings.

I took a step closer to him. I looked into his eyes. His gaze was tender, filled with warmth. I took a deep breath while he raised his brow at me. And I did the unthinkable.

I rose to my toes and put my hands around his neck. I watched as his eyes widened but I didn't give him any time to retreat. "I love you." I closed my eyes and whispered against his lips before placing my lips on his.

My head swam at the sensation of his warm lips against mine. A contrast to his hard and taut body, his lips were wonderfully soft. I had imagined this many times in my dreams, but I wasn't prepared for the feelings that the touch gave rise to. They were beyond my imagination. My body came alive in the way I never knew. I felt dizzy and lightheaded and I suddenly wanted more. I tugged at his lower lip and that's when realization dawned upon me like a thunder.

Lost in my feelings, I never realized that his lips were tight and closed against mine. His neck was stiff under my palms and his arms never held me. It was my body that was pressed against his but there was absolutely no reaction from him. As the final rejection penetrated the fog in my brain, the already broken heart of mine broke even more. But I didn't let go of his lips, for I didn't want to see the rejection in his eyes. I desperately tried for his response moving my lips against his frantically. But there was none. I broke into cold sweat. That only meant one thing.

With tears filling my eyes, I drew back from him with my arms sill around his neck. I slowly opened my eyes and looked at him. That was the biggest mistake I had ever done. I shouldn't have looked at him. My heart stopped breathing when I noticed his face expressionless and completely red. His jaw was clenched tight and I could notice the tick of his muscle against his skin. I staggered back when I looked into his eyes. There was neither the tenderness nor the warmth. There was absolutely nothing.

Unable to stand his gaze and ashamed of myself, I grabbed my purse from the table and ran away from him.

But my stupid heart, it never lost its hope. Even while running towards the exit of the restaurant, I hoped that he might be looking in my direction. That even though he might not love me, he might still want to have me as his friend. May be he will forgive me for my stupidity. May be…..

I stopped running and slowly turned around, holding my heart in my fist. He stood at the same spot, his back turned to me, his right hand in his hair. And finally, I accepted my defeat.

I lost not only his love, but also his friendship. I truly lost him. Forever.

As another sob escaped my lips, I quickly drove back to home. My parents were already waiting for me, with my two huge suitcases in the living room. I swallowed another sob, wiped my tears frantically and put on a serene smile on my face. I didn't know if they noticed my distressed state. But even if they did, they didn't speak of it. And for that I can only love them more.

We had a quick lunch, put my entire luggage in the car, bid my byes to my neighbors and sat in the car. I took deep breaths during the drive to the airport. I knew that if I break down now, there would be no end to my tears.

I waited patiently during the checking and boarding. The moment I got into the plane, I ran to the washroom and sank to the floor. I closed my mouth with my hand to stop the noise from escaping my sobs and I cried. Cried for the loss of a friend. Cried for the loss of my love. Cried for the loss of a beautiful future I could have with him. Cried for the loss of myself.

When my sobs turned to hiccups, I washed my face, patted it dry and went back to my seat. I fastened my seat belt when I heard the announcement and closed my eyes. I knew that I have to let go of him. He belonged to someone else. But I knew that even if I was able to let go of him, I would never be able to let go of my love for him.

I love him. Now and forever.

---------------------------

 -Armaan-

"Damn that woman!!!" I screamed in frustration, running one of my hands in my already ruffled hair and throwing my tie away with the other one. Trying to calm myself, I slumped my body on the couch and closed my eyes. Her teary eyes flashed infront of my eyes and I snapped them open.

As I shifted my position on the couch, something pricked my hip and I cursed under my breath again. I groped in my pant pocket and pulled out a delicate velvet box out. The lid fell open and a platinum wedding band mocked at me. Suddenly overcome by remorse and utterly exhausted, I threw the box aside and leaned back on the couch. I heard my mobile ringing ceaselessly, but ignored it fully aware who might be trying to reach me. After all, I just broke my engagement off!

"f**k you, Riddhima!" I uttered under my breath and closed my eyes yet again.

I remembered that one moment which snatched peace away from my life. One afternoon, one woman and one kiss! One damned kiss! As much as I tried to avoid thinking of that one moment, I couldn't help but sigh at the memory. Everything had been going perfectly: I gifted her with the diary, we chatted about our time together and then I bid her good-bye. Everything until that moment. I tried to squeeze my eyes to push that memory away, but in vain.

"Armaan?" I heard her frantic shout for me and turned back to her, quite surprised at her voice.

She came running towards me and stood a feet or two away from me. While I waited for her to say something, I noticed her fidgeting with her fingers and swallowing repeatedly. I raised my brow at her when she looked up at me.

"I-" She gulped and tried again, "I-I have something to say to you."

"Yeah?" I smiled at her, relaxing.

She seemed to be struggling with something, contemplating whether to open her mouth or not and my smile increased. That was so Riddhima! For some reason, she was always extremely conscious of my presence. Initially, I thought she might be uncomfortable moving closely with males but then realized that it was in my presence that she was fidgety. I tried to make her feel as comfortable as possible, but her brain seemed to be always on different things.

She gazed at me as if searching for something in my eyes. Her eyes held a peculiar combination of grey and green, that was so unique that I couldn't help but admire. I had never seen them from such short distance, hence was surprised for a moment. As I took in the impressive colour of her eyes, she took one more step towards me and I raised my brow at her, for there was hardly any space left between us. I felt something strange in the way she looked at me and before I could think of retreating back, she locked her hands around my neck

"I love you." She whispered and touched my lips with hers.

I was paralyzed with shock for a couple of moments and then snapped back to the present when I felt her lips moving gracefully against mine. My heart raced at its full pace and my mind refused to cooperate with my senses. And then I felt her fisting my hair and press her body into mine. For a moment, all I could register was the softness of her body against mine. Many a time, I wondered how soft and fragile her body would be when I glanced at her but that was before I got into relationship with Sanjana. The same instant, however, my dazed brain related Sanjana as my girlfriend and that I was being kissed by some woman, or Riddhima to be precise, the one whom I considered to be my good friend. A sound of alarm rang in my brain and I was about to draw apart when I felt her sucking my lower lip eagerly and frantically. And I was lost, trying to understand what was happening.

When I was still trying to make sense of what was happening, I felt her release my face and drew back. She slowly raised her eyes to mine and I instantly noticed the tears in her eyes. As what just transpired between us penetrated the fog in my brain, I felt my body going rigid, my jaw clenched. But before I could shout or scream, I watched as she grabbed her purse from the table and ran away. My eyes automatically landed on the diary I had just gifted her and I ran my hand in my hair frustrated.

"I love you." She had whispered that day, I snorted. And she said that just few hours before she flew out of the country. I was suddenly filled with anger at her actions. All three years, we were together in the same project, sitting right beside to each other in office and she found the exact moment before leaving India to tell me that she loved me. She was the one who helped me select gift for Sanjana on Valentine 's Day. She was the first one to whom I told that we were in a relationship. She was the one who helped me get ready to meet Sanjana's parents. And yet she was mum at all those times and chose to tell me that she loved me right before she was leaving me. And for that I hated her. I hate her!

And here I was sitting, on the night of my engagement with Sanjana, in my living room which was dark and gloomy and scary just like my life. Eight months ago, I was a happy guy with a beautiful girlfriend and another beautiful and sweet friend. One impulsive action from that damned sweet friend of mine turned my life upside down.

One week after Riddhima had left for London, I was horrified when I remembered the way Riddhima had kissed me when I kissed Sanjana. One month later, I was left speechless when I found myself comparing the dark blue eyes of Sanjana to the grey-green ones of Riddhima. Three months later I despised myself when I imagined how Riddhima would look in a gown I had purchased for Sanjana. Just one hour before, I lost my mind when I wondered how the platinum band I had bought for Sanjana would look on Riddhima's finger. And just like that I broke my engagement off.

"I am sorry, Sanjana." I had told her before I turned my back on her, her parents, my parents, our friends and drove like a maniac to my flat.

"What the hell is wrong with you?" I jumped when I heard Rahul yell at me, barging through the door. "What was all that about?" He demanded.

"Riddhima" I said simply, rubbing my eyes.

"Who? Our Riddhima?" He asked surprised. "Where did Riddhima fit into all this mess?" He shouted when I nodded. "Screw you man! Do you have any idea of Sanjana's condition after you left, or even your parents' or hers?"

"I have no idea Rahul!!" I screamed at the top of my voice, throwing my coat on the floor. "I have no freaking idea what the hell is happening to me!!"

"Woah!!" He exclaimed, raising his hands in truce. "What's wrong?" He asked.

And two hours later, he just stared at me, his brows drawn together and a frown on his face, as if he was solving extremely difficult math question on CAT.

"So you couldn't get Riddhima out of your system just because she told you she loved you." He said, as a matter of fact.

"And because she kissed me." I added, after taking a long sip of my beer.

"And because she kissed you." He corrected, with a lopsided smile on his face.

"What?" I barked at him, wiping the grin off his face.

"Nothing." He replied sipping his beer. "So what do you plan on doing with this image of Riddhima in your head?"

"I am going to focus my mind on the PRD project that I am proposed for in London and forget about that bitch!" I said, bitterly.

"Oh! But I thought you said no for it." He reminded me.

"I didn't reject it. I just put it on hold. And now I am going to take it." I said firmly. "And then I am going to make it up for Sanjana." I added.

"I see." He said but I knew that he didn't see anything in my decision.

I sighed and stood. It was more than enough for a day or even a life time. "Rahul, please talk to Sanjana, her parents, mom and dad, will you?" I asked, tired. I took a step towards my bedroom when I heard his voice.

"Shall I tell them about Riddhima?" He asked.

I gave him a hard glare and shook my head negatively.

"Okay." He said quite cheerfully. "Why do I have a feeling that there is something more to your taking up London project? Riddhima went to London University right?" He asked, with a smirk on his face that I wanted to punch so badly.

"Go f**k yourself!" I rather snapped and slammed the door shut on his face.

-------------------

-Narrator-

"Why did you have to come along?" Armaan hissed at Rahul, while smiling at his onsite colleagues who greeted them in London office.
"I am committed to my profession, Armaan. If my company needs me, I will never back gown." Rahul replied back slyly, with a silly grin on his face.

"Oh cut the crap! Ankit told me that you requested him to put you on this project with me." Armaan snapped at him.

"Sanjana called me in the morning." Rahul added suddenly. "She asked me to tell you that she is fine and that she doesn't hate you anymore." He ended, with a genuine concern in his voice.

"I am glad." He replied with a sigh. "I messed up her life bad. She is a sweet heart."

"That she is," Rahul agreed. "She also asked me to convey her wishes to Riddhima when we meet her." He added.

Armaan stopped short at the mention of Riddhima's name and glared at him. "For the last four months, I have been trying to convince you Rahul. I am not here to meet that bitch. You may go to her Uni if you want to meet. But stop bringing her name up infront of me." He uttered before taking his seat in their cabin. "I don't want to be in a bad mood before we meet the new interns."

"How many are we assigned with, for this project?" Rahul asked, logging in to his laptop and simultaneously reading through the project status reports.

"Seven in all." Armaan answered, calling his manager on the intercom and discussing the tasks to be done for the day. "I heard there is one Indian among them." He added after he ended the call with his manager.

"Here is the list of your new interns, guys." Lisa smiled at them before giving the paper containing the list to Rahul. "And don't let the girls drool all over you. Teach them some work too." She winked at Rahul and left the cabin.

Rahul spared one look at the list in his hand and then his face broke out into a wide grin. Whoever has assigned these interns to them, he wanted to kiss the breath out of that person, be it a man or woman. For, that one person has just made the purpose of his coming to London damn easy. He just has to make sure that one particular intern was assigned to Armaan from among their team mates. And that was just a walk on the cake.

He then turned his attention to Armaan and sighed. Though a faint plan took its shape in his brain, he was not sure how Armaan would respond to it when he was face to face to it. After all, the guy has a temper that can burn the receiving person in his red and hot fury. And he was not sure if the receiving person would be able to withstand it, this time. Because he knew that one person has turned his friend's life upside down, intentionally or not.

"I'll go and discuss the interns and their mentors with Lisa. You carry on with the call." Rahul said hurriedly and fled from the room.

Armaan raised his brow at his friend's abrupt leaving. As much as he was irritated with his prying into his personal space for the last few months, he was glad that Rahul accompanied him to London for the project. If not for Rahul, he was sure he would have done something stupid with respect to Riddhima. Like throttling her, for example. Or going to meet her, his heart suggested the fact to his brain.

Ever since he had stepped down from the flight, there was a nagging feeling in him. That feeling hinted at him to go and meet Riddhima for once, but he pushed it aside for the sake of his ego. With days, his anger against Riddhima subsided but he still couldn't digest the fact that she had kept her feelings to herself for all those months of their togetherness and let them out just before flying out of India. He still couldn't understand why she let him know about her feelings for him, when she had decided not to keep in contact with him. For almost an year, he was going mad and he didn't even know if she still had the same feelings for him. And he still couldn't decipher why he was not able to forget her when he doesn't even love her.

The ring of his mobile broke the chain of his thoughts. "Yeah Rahul?" He spoke into the mobile.

"Come to the conference hall for the meeting with interns." Rahul told him.

Aramaan cut the call and headed towards the conference hall after collecting the CD which contained the project briefing that he has to present to the interns of his team. As he crossed the cafeteria, he stopped dead on his tracks on encountering the subject of his inner turmoil. He clenched his fists on noticing her laughing and hugging some guy.

Riddhima hugged her college mate Tom, before adjusting her blazer and moving to the conference hall, where she was supposed to meet her senior team mates. She was glad for securing the internship on the same company after her masters as she was well versed with the work culture of it, while working for it an year ago. She weighed the risk of meeting Armaan again while applying for the internship but dismissed it for the odds of meeting him are bleak as he was working in India and she in London.

Riddhima smiled at the practitioners present in the hall and greeting them with a polite hand shake before taking the seat with her name card. She was going through the contents of the folder placed infront of her when her eyes landed on the person sitting at the far end of the table. She hoped she mistook him for someone else and tried to find solace in that. But she knew she was wrong when he smiled at her warmly. Her heart stopped beating for a second and she searched around frantically for Armaan. She tried to calm down when she didn't find him and convinced herself that Rahul might have been here on the project and Armaan might be in India. She believed it, for she didn't have the energy left in her to meet him once again.

Armaan couldn't believe his fate. He wondered why God couldn't leave this one woman out of his life. But then it was all his fault. Why did he have to take up the London project when he was well aware of the fact that Riddhima was studying in Lodon. He should have guessed that she might be applying for the internship here. After all she had worked for the same company for three years before going for her masters. But why couldn't she be in some other project? He took a deep breath and took his seat beside Rahul without glancing at her or acknowledging her presence. All he could hope now was that she was not assigned to him.

Riddhima felt as if she had received a punch in her face when she watched him walk in to the hall and take his place beside Armaan. All the blood drained off her face and she felt her limbs shaking slightly. Her dread increased hundred folds when he didn't even spare her a glance. All she could hope now was that she was not assigned to him.

Rahul was the silent spectator of the building tension in the room that everyone was unaware of. After looking at Riddhima's pale face and Armaan's clenched jaw, he wondered if he had taken the wrong decision. But the deed was done one, he sighed. All he could hope now was that they wouldn't know that he deliberately made Lisa assign Riddhima to Armaan. He was not sure about Riddhima's reaction but witnessing the muscle ticking in Armaan's jaw, he was sure that his friend would burn him to death.

Rahul winced when Lisa read out the names of the mentors of the interns. Whatever blood was remaining on Riddhima's face, it was gone when she heard her mentor's name and Armaan's face turned red when he heard his mentee's name. He was sure that the hell was about to break loose in their cabin.

---------------

Riddhima took several deep breaths before knocking on Armaan's cabin. She was already dreading facing him for two reasons. One, she was left breathless in the hall one hour ago when she witnessed the cold anger in his eyes that was directed towards her. Two, she was already 20 minutes late to their meeting.

"Come in." She heard his deep voice and felt her heart beat escalating.

"I am sorry Ar- Mr. Mallik. I was held back due to-" She tried to explain the reason behind her coming late as soon as she entered his cabin but he cut her short.

"Ms. Gupta, I despise excuses and the people who use them to cover their mistakes. So save them for yourself." Armaan shouted at her and she was mortified when all his team members present in the cabin stared at her.

"But-" She tried again.

"If we are done with your nonsense, shall we get back to more important stuff?" He mocked at her.

All the team members, along with Rahul, gaped at Armaan for his lashing out at the intern. They all knew him as a sweet dimpled guy from India and never saw him in such a temper in their four months of working together. Even his manager was taken back and Lisa almost dropped the papers she was holding.

Riddhima blinked away the tears threating to spill from her eyes and swallowed the lump that was forming in her throat. She didn't understand why he abhorred her but she was shaken to the depth of the soul at the hatred she just witnessed in his voice. Of all the reactions she had expected out from him, this was not even on her list.

"Y-Yes." She answered weakly, lowering her face, trying to save her pride infront of others.

"Good!" He said sternly and turned to his manager who was explaining to them the ongoing tasks.

Riddhima moved aside and quietly took her seat while trying to focus on the discussion going on in the cabin. But all she could feel was emptiness inside her. She felt utterly exhausted and drained by the end of the meeting with Armaan throwing rapid fire questions at her face among all the interns present and indirectly insulting her for the lack of knowledge when she fumbled with the answers.

She excused herself quickly when the meeting was over and rushed to the break-out area. She shut herself in the washroom and let the tears free from her eyes. She didn't expect that one impulsive decision taken an year back would completely destroy the special relationship she had with Armaan. She was able to live with the fact that he didn't love her but she couldn't bear the indifference she was receiving from Armaan.

Rahul paced in the empty break-out area waiting for Riddhima to step out of the wash room. He had to give Armaan a piece of his mind but first he had to make sure that she was fine. He had noticed her pale face and watery gaze by the end of the meeting and knew she might be crying. He turned to her when he heard the door of the ladies washroom click. One look at her and he knew she had cried. What else did he expect!

Riddhima looked at Rahul and tried to put on a mask of smiling face but in vain. "I am fine." She whispered.

Rahul didn't speak anything for a moment and the next moment, his arms were around her holding her close to him. She tried to resist what he was offering but knew that she was in desperate need of someone to comfort her. So she obliged, hiding her face in his chest, trying to swallow the sobs that were about to break loose. But everything became too much for her and she broke down in his arms. The feeling of home sickness, missing her parents and the lack of good friends in her university to share her turmoil for the last one year combined with her broken heart lead to heaps of misery accumulated in her heart. And with Rahul, she didn't feel the necessity to put up with the plastic smile she had mastered, for she knew that he was aware of whatever had transpired between Armaan and her.

"Ssh Riddhima. He is just disturbed with the fact that you were in love with him when he thought of you as his friend." He said, patting her back when she hiccupped. "Just give him some time to come to terms with it."

"I-I didn't m-mean to d-disturb him. I c-couldn't let g-go of him w-without telling him that I-I loved him b-before leaving." She uttered in her broken voice. "I k-knew he didn't l-love me but I h-had to try."

"I know, Riddhima. You need not explain your actions." He consoled her.

Riddhima drew back and wiped her tears. "Can you help me get another mentor? I don't think he like me anymore." She said.

"That will only infuriate him more, Riddhima." Rahul said, giving her a glass of water to drink. "Beside he loves you. He is just stubborn to accept it." He added.

Riddhim wanted to tell him that he was wrong but she found solace in the fact that atleast according to him, Armaan loves her. Illusion appealed to her when compared to the harsh reality, so she let him be.

------------------

By evening, Riddhima was ready to drop down dead. While she was glad that Armaan didn't strike her, she was physically tired and emotionally exhausted. He didn't shout at her and neither did he raise his voice but that deadly glare and cold tone was all needed for her undoing. She didn't have lunch, for Armaan demanded she complete the design document by evening and she didn't even have evening snacks as she didn't have stomach for it. Her nerves had been raw since morning dreading Armaan's anger and she seemed to be on her toes all the time for one reason or the other. Amidst all the confusion, she couldn't understand why Armaan had insisted she assist him in his work when he had six more interns to choose for.

But by 6 pm in the evening, she tried to relax glancing at the watch. She has only one hour before she could run back to her sanctuary-her home. Once there, she didn't need to put with Armaan's anger or her plastic smile. She can just cuddle in her bed and give in to her misery, like always.

"One meeting status meeting to go!" She whispered to herself.

On the other hand, Armaan's situation was not much different. He was as emotionally exhausted as Riddhima was. His initial anger had subsided after the lunch when he had time to calm his heated brain. And then he waited; waited for a slight hint from Riddhima about the feelings she seemed to have told him one year ago. The more he waited, the more furious he became because Riddhima appeared to be formal with him. Given the way she had rushed out of the meeting, he expected she would come to him and sing her love for him. Neither did she come to him nor did she run away from him. That infuriated him more. Because he wanted to listen to her telling him that she loves him. Oh yes! He wanted to hear just that, again, for some reason unknown to him.

"Armaan, it's time for status meeting!" Lisa shouted for him from the open door of his cabin.

Armaan sighed and picked up his laptop and files before making his way towards the conference room. Everyone seemed to be on wary around him, he thought surly. And once again he damned Riddhima. But the moment he found her, his control snapped. Here he was trying to sort the confusion in his brain caused by her and there she was having fun!

Riddhima laughed at Tom's rigorous efforts to make her cheerful. He was the closest he had come to being her friend in her university and she couldn't thank him enough. He gave her, her space and just comforted but never demanded answers for her forlorn behavior. She hugged him one again and headed back to the room when she saw everyone filling in.

Armaan felt as if he sat on fire all through the meeting. Everyone around him seemed to be peaceful, he thought. Everyone except him! And that doubled his rage.

"And yes Ms. Gupta, Rahul was telling me that you worked in his team an year back in India." Armaan heard his manager say and turned his attention to the discussion.

"Yes sir. We worked together for almost three years." Riddhima answered.

"I had a discussion with Rahul and I am impressed with your work today. You seemed to be as efficient as your peers." He was saying. "Since you already have the experience, we would be pleased if you would join us as a full time employee from tomorrow. I talked to the HR and here is your offer letter." He pushed the sealed envelope on the table towards her.

Rahul grinned at Riddhima. Armaan was stunned and so was she.

"I-" Riddhima tried to speak but words failed her. "I would love to." She choked with a small smile after a moment of hesitance, looking at Armaan.

"So please stay back after the meeting. I would like to have a small chat with you." Her manager said and then turned to her team mates. "Everyone, please stay back for half an hour. We would have a small tea party for welcoming Ms. Gupta into our team."

Rahul showed his 32 teeth while Armaan replied with a polite nod. When Rahul turned to Armaan, he had to bite back his laughter for Armaan seemed to be as red as Lisa's dress.

"So Riddhima, do you have any plans to go back to India after this assignment?" Lisa asked her when they sat enjoying the green tea and hot dogs.

"No. I prefer working here." She replied.

"Are you engaged?" Lisa went a step further. "I mean if you don't mind asking."

"That's fine." Riddhima shifted in her seat under the scrutinizing gaze of Armaan. Though she didn't look at him, she felt his attention on her the moment the question came up. "I am single."

Armaan was getting irritated. Everyone seemed to enjoy her company and find her interesting. Why even his managed appeared to be taken with her.

"So what do you do in your free time?" Another colleague asked her.

"Kissing people!" Armaan snapped.

A stunned silence followed his absurd remark. He might as well slap her, Riddhima thought turning pale as if she had seen a ghost. But Armaan wasn't deterred. "And telling them she loves them." He added in a harsh whisper.

"Kids!" Rahul shouted, coming to her immediate rescue. "She loves kids! She works for an NGO in the weekends." He said glaring at Armaan. "Armaan was just kidding, weren't you?" He gritted his teeth.

"Yeah, kidding!" He agreed with a tight smile and Rahul was glad when everyone smiled and fell into chatter again. "Excuse me," He collected his laptop and files and left the room.

Armaan splashed cold water against his face and looked at his image in the mirror. He regretted the words when he realized what he had uttered but it had been late. He was as Riddhima turned pale and tried to blink her tears away. None of them seemed to notice that but he did. And she appeared as if he had slapped her and he felt sick. He didn't mean to hurt her but somehow ended up doing the same. He had seen the anguish in her eyes. He patted his face dry and went back to his cabin feeling lower than a worm.

Armaan entered his cabin only to find all his team members glaring at him. And Rahul's gaze was fatal.

"What?" He asked them, confused.

Rahul shoved his laptop in his hands and went back to stand with his team. Frowning, he looked at the screen, read the first few lines and felt his heart stop beating. The subject of the mail that was sent to the team read 'Apologies for rejecting the position of Associate Team Lead - Functional' and the sender was Riddhima. He held his breath and read the body of the mail.

'Dear Team,

I feel blessed at having been offered to work with the team not once but twice. However, due to some unavoidable circumstances, I am flying out of London tomorrow morning and hence wouldn't be able to take up the position offered to me. I am sorry to say that I have also resigned to my internship due to the same. I am sure you would find more deserving people to work with.

Thank you for all the support and encouragement I have received today. I would cherish this day till the end of my life and would always be grateful to you and the company.

Regards and adios,

Riddhima Gupta'

And in the very precise moment, another realization dawned upon him like a lightening.

He is in love with Riddhima.

That explained his torment after she left India. That explained his imagination of her at every step in his relationship with Sanjana. That explained the nagging feeling in his heart when he reached London and that very much explained his confused hatred towards her. It also explained why he longed to hear her saying that she loved him. Because he wanted to say the same back to her.

That realization brought about a stupid smile on his face and Rahul lost his mind. He snatched the laptop away from his hands and looked at him as if he wanted to eat him alive.

"Stop that smile or I won't hesitate to wipe it off myself." Rahul snarled at him.

Armaan can only grin at him, showing off his dimples.

"I am waiting for your explanation." Rahul announced, trying to hold on to his patience.

But Armaan's mind was already somewhere else. He looked at his watch and recalled the rime mentioned in the mail- 7.42 pm. Now it is 7.56 pm. Since she didn't get her laptop, he only concluded that it might have been just a few minutes that she left the office. He turned around to leave, but Rahul stopped him

"Where are you going?" Rahul demanded.

"I have an important assignment to complete by tonight." Armaan replied.

"Assigmenent? Which one? Which track?" It was his manager.

But Armaan was in high spirits to mind that. So he patiently replied. "Merger assignment, Acquisition track!" He exclaimed before he ran out of the cabin, in search of the subject of his assignment.

While everyone looked confused, Rahul was amused. Finally Armaan was back to his senses!

--------------

Armaan found Riddhima walking out of the main gate of the company and called out for her. She stopped walking for a second before she resumed at double the earlier pace. Her face was bent and her upper body was covered in thick jacket, but he recognized her all the same. He grimaced when the chilling evening wind hit him in the face but ran after her. He held her wrist and stopped her when he reached her but she didn't turn to him.

"Wait a minute, I want to talk to you." Armaan said panting and shivering.

Even then, she didn't look at him and neither did she turn to him. Sighing, Armaan walked and stood infront of her. He held her chin and raised it to his gaze and his chest tightened at the sight.

Riddhima had been crying.

"Riddhima, I am sorry. I didn't mean to say that." He said slowly, wiping the tears away with his thumb but she stepped back from his hold.

"That's fine." She sniffed and he couldn't hold his smile back when she blew her nose and rubbed it with her tissue. Even in such a mess, he thought she was the most enchanting woman. "I want to leave." She mumbled after a moment her gaze on the wrist he held.

"Not until I am done with you." He said.

For the first time she had arrived in the office, she lifted her eyes and looked into his eyes. Her eyes and face held such a defeat that it wrenched his heart. And just like that he knew that she still loves him. He wondered what a fool he was for not realizing it earlier. It would have cut all the confusion he had gone through all the hurt she went through.

"What is it?" She asked, her voice weak and but an unmistakable hope in her eyes.

"I have two positions for you." He said and her shoulders slumped. "One is the Associate Team Lead that you just rejected."

She wriggled her wrist out of his hold and turned her back on him. He grinned.

"Don't you want to know the other position?" He shouted for her. She shook her head and continued walking. "Even if I say the second one is the post of Mrs. Armaan Mallik?" He asked, again.

She turned back abruptly after a moment and stared at him stunned. "You are not married?" She asked.

And it was his turn to be stunned. "What? No." He said, rubbing his palms.

"Sanjana?" She asked, still confused. And then he understood why she didn't tell him that she loved him when they were working together. Ofcourse, she wouldn't want to hurt Sanjana. She was her friend too!

"I broke up with her on the night of our engagement." He said, walking up to her.

"Why?" She asked, involuntarily taking a step towards him.

"Because someone one else was in my mind and heart." He said, as a matter of fact, shoving his hands into his trousers pockets.

"Who?" She choked as if she understood where the discussion was leading to. Her eyes turned misty too.

"Some girl who worked with me and who was my friend." He said simply. "She told me she loved me and kissed the breath out of me. But before I could make sense of she ran off without as much as a point of contact with her. I just knew that she studi-"

He was cut short when she threw herself against him and hugged him tight enough to break his neck. Less than a moment later, she was crying and sniffing again.

"Oh Riddhima! I am so sorry I hurt you." He whispered, holding her close to his body. "I was just mad at you for leaving me right after you said you loved me. I guess I was stubborn to accept my feelings for you."

"I know." She mumbled in her muffled voice, burying her face in his neck, her warm tears somehow protecting him from the cold. "Rahul told me so." She added.

He smiled at her words. Ofcourse he might have done that he thought and thanked his friend.

"So I take it as a yes." He whispered into her ear and felt her lips curve against my neck.

She drew back and looked up at him. "For which post?" 

"I don't give a damn about the first one. I only care about the latter." He uttered before bending his face down and brushing his lips against hers. When he raised his head, he was pleased to find her eyes closed and face turned red.

"Oh Riddhima, I love you!" He whispered, his voice gruff with emotion, before claiming her lips in a proper kiss to seal the moment.

With their lips locked and her hands raised into his nape, He couldn't help but recall their last kiss. Though he didn't remember whether he had responded or not, he remembered every minute detail of the way her lips moved against his eagerly. And that only burned him more. He tilted her face and raised her up against him before deepening the kiss. A moment into the kiss and he realized she was exquisitely clumsy when it comes to kissing and excitingly innocent. He took advantage of the fact all for their won pleasure. She followed him when he took the lead and he took her to the stars. He felt loosing himself in the passion the sweet woman in his arms aroused in him and slowly ended the kiss. When he opened his eyes and looked down at her, she was panting and so was he.

She hid her face in his neck yet again and mumbled, "I don't kiss random people."

"I know," He grinned and pecked her earlobe while she sighed contently.

When he heard a whistle, he looked around and was stunned to find them among several other employees of the company. The ladies were looking at them in awe, with their hands against their chests and guys were staring at them amused. He was glad they were in India or else it would have been damn embarrassing, he thought. He heard another whistle and looked up to find Rahul waving at them from the balcony of the second floor of their building, grinning from ear to ear. He drew her back, wrapped his arm around her waist and walked towards the building.

Riddhima stopped and turned to look at him just as they reached the elevator. "I decided not to let go of the two positions you offered me and, " She said, smiling.

"And?" He probed her to continue, waiting for her magical words, holding his breath.

"And I love you." She said with a smile.

He pulled her to himself and grinned. "Even if you don't, I would never let go of you." He whispered in her ear.



And they lived...
... as per your imaginations! Wink

-------(the end)-----------

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